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10 moments from Galapagos island hopping

Global Studies teacher Andrew McLean recently asked his students to write 4 “Wow!” moments, 3 learning moments, 2 mind-changing moments, and 1 moment worth learning more about. The following moments come courtesy of TGS student Hannah C.

WOW #1

His volunteers stand fidgeting in the center of the circle, as we listen intently to Pepo and his story of Floreana’s first families. It’s truly a murder mystery, a thriller. Who knew such tales could emerge from a place as random as one of the Galapagos Islands! We laugh, as TGS students are given roles; we tense, as the plot intensifies. All day, I think of the nine unsolved deaths, the Baroness and her two lovers, the dentist… It seems so far-fetched, so unbelievable. We look around at the forest where heinous crimes had supposedly been committed, at the water supply that the Baroness had tried to put taxes upon, at this magical, almost unreal place.

WOW #2

I pick out a few words, donde…bonita…

We’d been wearing our black, matching Darwin shirts with pride, when a girl had approached us and blurted a thread of words in Spanish, gesturing at our tops. Where did we get our shirts?

My eyes light up, as I say:

En Santa Cruz! En Galapagos!

She laughs gently at my poor accent, and with smiling eyes, thanks us. Gawa and I chuckle, as we congratulate ourselves on our improved Spanish.

WOW #3

Shoving and pushing, we lean in to get a closer look. A tortoise egg and four identical bottles are balanced on the wooden beam. The egg is a pale beige, slightly larger than a ping pong ball. We croon over its size. The cap reminds me of the ‘child-friendly’ ones, that are nearly impossible for even adults to open quickly. It crowns a glass bottle, and in each, floats a tortoise fetus, suspended in a certain time of development. The fourth and final bottle jolts me alert. Almost fully developed, the fetus is really just a miniature tortoise, without its hard shell. He lies there, drifting in the transparent mixture, always, frozen in time.

WOW #4

It’s probably just seaweed.
Probably.

We’d been walking along the beach, our toes sinking into the fine, powder sand. Out, a few meters away, we notice a black object, floating, and at first, disregard it as a plant, dead weight. As we near, we notice waves around it, ones that form around a surfboard against a current. The plant is swimming.

We stray our way to take a closer look, and we realize what it is. With dark scales all along the back, a marine iguana treaded the water, as we gaped by the sidelines. We’d been watching a marine iguana swim. I’d never felt so accessible to nature. The wildlife here is so unafraid, so exposed, so very raw.

LEARNED #1

He fell asleep, while mounting the female!

We laugh at poor Lonesome George’s failed attempts at mating, but soon grow somber as we begin to comprehend what a stressed life he has been living. As the last surviving tortoise from Pinta island, the pressure to breed George is enormous. But, as we hear more of the story from an inside perspective, we can see that the projects are not entirely honest, not completely dedicated towards George’s wellbeing. It has became social, Jeff says. George is a main tourist attraction. If they don’t see him, their trip is a disappointment.

To cater towards tourists, the park housing him has cut away most of the foliage that shaded him and fenced the area off. Many argue that he needs to be let loose, or at least given a more natural, wider habitat. Perhaps then, he will decide to mate. He’s only 120 years old, after all. Even more infuriatingly, George is only fed three times a week because (other than lack of funding) the park fears that if they feed him too often, he might die. George is the main source of income for this park, so they rely a great deal on him and his ability to attract tourists. What if the interest dies out when George isn’t the only of his kind?

Personally, I hope he is set free or at least moved somewhere where he can have an easier life.

LEARNED #2

In China, orphanages are filled with abandoned girls. Most families want boys to help work and provide for the family. Girls are considered a disappointment; to fulfill the one child only law, they must give these unwanted babies away.

What if you could control the sex of your baby?

Tortoise eggs can, in fact, be tampered with to get either a male or female. Simply, if the temperature of the incubated egg is 28 degrees Celsius, the tortoise will be male. If the temperature is 29 degrees, the tortoise will be female. In this way, the breeding centers can help supervise and balance the numbers. Que pleno!

LEARNED #3

The cactus trees you will find on these islands are vastly different from the ones you might find in an Old West movie with cowboys and bulls. They grow tall and develop a protective bark layer on its trunk. But why?

When cactus plants are small, they are vulnerable to iguanas and tortoises that might eat them, so they use their needles as a defense. As they grow taller, the trunk thickens and grows bark, which reptiles can’t or don’t want to eat. Unless the tortoise is long-necked (saddle-back), the cacti are too high and are safe from being eaten!

CHANGED THOUGHTS #1

During that first week in San Cristobal, I began to think of the Galapagos as a kind of tourist trap. On every corner are T-shirts and bracelets, coffee beans, and keychains. They even had a store that sold only imported goods, like Milky Way bars and canned peaches. I found it kind of absurd.

In Isabela, however, I realized that these islands are quite the opposite. They are a home to many, be it plants, animals, or even people.

CHANGED THOUGHTS #2

I had an irrational fear of sharks. At even the slightest mention of the word, I began to imagine all kinds of nightmares like Bruce, the Great White in Finding Nemo. On this trip, while snorkeling, I learned how wrong I was. Though sharks can be huge and intimidating creatures, not all are. We found four white-tip sharks, each about five or six feet long. Their tails float from side to side, scaring me senseless. But I realized how wrongly they have been portrayed. They are not monsters. They are merely a part of nature, an essential role in life.

TELL ME MORE

I was intrigued by the way of life on Isabela island, especially the lack of tourist attractions or shops. I’d like to learn more about how they sustain themselves and how they can live in such an isolated place with incredibly fragile resources.

Featured image by Charis S.

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